Monday, 3 May 2021

SINGLE: Wah! - The Story Of The Blues (part 1) (1982)

 


UK: WEA/Eternal JF1 (November 1982)

 

It’s the dying days of 1982, just after Christmas. I’m sitting in a lorry at Stansted Airport. It’s freezing, the fog refuses to budge. 

Grandad’s sitting behind the wheel, reading the paper. We’re waiting for a delivery from Portugal to be loaded onto a trailer for us to take back to Southampton. The beans on toast we had at a transport cafĂ© a couple of hours back are an increasingly distant memory. We could both kill for a cup of tea to warm up. 

Grandad starts up the engine of the DAF cab to get the heater working. No thought given to releasing unnecessary diesel fumes then. Nobody bothers about it. 

Mike Read’s doing the breakfast show on Radio 1. Grandad would probably prefer to have Radio 2 on, but he tolerates my choice when I come along for the ride. 

Mike’s having a bit of banter with the newsreader about how to pronounce the name of the band whose new single he’s about to play. Is it Waaaaarrrrr? Waaaahhhh? 

Anyway, they’re called “Wah!”, previously “Wah! Heat”, “Shambeko! Say Wah!”, and later to be “The Mighty Wah!”, “Wah! The Mongrel”… but I don’t know anything about that right now. It’s a band I haven’t heard of, and this is their new single. 

Mike thankfully cuts off the repartee and finally plays the record. It’s called The Story Of The Blues (Part 1). And it’s bloody marvellous. 

That rollicking drum rhythm. Those strings. Instant attention grabber. Then, as the backing singers do a quick “Ooooo…” Pete Wylie’s voice comes in. 

I’m only nine, heading for ten so I have no idea what the words are about. Is he talking about a book called The Story Of The Blues? Is it one of those partworks you collect every fortnight? 

I don’t even remotely twig that the words are all about life kicking someone down one too many times, about being made to feel useless and worthless but with a glimmer of optimism in there. I’ve not gotten far enough through life to get it. 

None of that matters right now. All I hear is that brilliant noise, pulling back a bit in the verses, going full throttle again on the choruses then pulling out all the stops for the final repeat, Wylie adding an extra counterpoint vocal to tip it right over the emotional edge. This thing sounds amazing, fighting through the medium wave static. 

And then it fades. It’s gone, become a what-the-hell-did-I-just-hear moment. 

Mike says something about disruption to air flights due to fog. I can see that. Grandad’s still reading his paper, he’s on the sport pages now. He says it’s ridiculous that Saints have just played league games two days in a row. I agree. 

I resolve to talk my Mum into buying me a copy of The Story Of The Blues (Part 1) when we go shopping next week, and so she does. Gratifyingly, the purchase helps to send it to number 3.





Sunday, 2 May 2021

MOVIE: We Still Say Grace (2020)

 


We Still Say Grace 

Directed by Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach 

Starring Bruce Davison, Holly Taylor, Rita Volk, Arianne Zucker, Dallas Hart, Frankie Wolf, Xavier J. Watson 

Dauntless Studios/Lexicon Entertainment 2020

 

When three students on a road trip get a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere, they call in at a farm looking for help. It’s the home of Harold (Davison), a religious zealot who rules his family with a rod of iron and has a take on Christianity which is unorthodox to say the least. 

Unbeknownst to the three, Harold has been doing a dry run for a suicide pact between himself, wife Betty (Zucker) and daughters Maggie and Sarah (Taylor and Volk respectively). Maggie, however seems somewhat resistant to this plan and the visitors  offer a window to a different world… 

There’s a nice wrong-footing of the audience early on, as the opening scenes give the impression of a frontier family in the old west before a white Cadillac appears and the stark contrast between the residents and visitors becomes apparent. 

It’s not long before Harold is revealed to be a hypocrite, and an unsound one at that. Just how dangerous he is becomes clearer as Maggie, somewhat liberated by her contact with the outsiders begins to question and challenge her way of life. 

The “stranded travellers find themselves taken in by fundamentalist nutter” strand is a well worn one, but the script by directors Helmink and Rauschelbach throws some interesting curveballs during its 94-minutes and the pair do a good job of keeping the spiralling situation just the right side of going off-piste. 

There are strong turns all-round from the cast, particularly the female performers making up Harold’s family but it’s Bruce Davison (always a great asset to any production) who provides the perfect vehicle for them to bounce off with a performance which is alternately disturbing and infuriating, such does he get under the skin of this repellent individual. His interaction with Holly Taylor in the latter part of the film, where the two mentally square-off against each other raises We Still Say Grace a very large notch above the usual religious-fanatic chiller.

 

We Still Say Grace is released to UK digital platforms by 101 Films on May 3rd 2020.


Saturday, 24 April 2021

MOVIE: The Deadly Bees (1966)

 


Appropriately for a spring Saturday, the bees are coming in 1966's The Deadly Bees - I'm taking a look at Amicus' foray into creature features at Spooky Isles. Read more at https://www.spookyisles.com/the-deadly-bees-1966 

Saturday, 17 April 2021

MOVIE: Darkroom (1989)

 


Darkroom

Directed by Terrence O'Hara 

Starring  Aarin Teich, Jill Pierce, Jeff Arbaugh

Omega Entertainment 1989 

After committing a brutal double axe murder, an unknown assailant targets a large family in a remote house. Tensions rise as it becomes apparent that the killer may be someone close to them, looking for revenge after they traumatically saw two family members indulging in lewd behaviour as a child... 

Here's one I last saw on a VHS from Guild Home Video (remember them?) and had forgotten all about until a recent Bluray release. It all starts off promisingly with some creative titles which display the credits on the ephemera of a photo lab (negatives, photo paper and the like) before heading into an opening killing which indicates we might be in for a giallo-esqe hour and a half.

Unfortunately, Darkroom is promising more than it delivers and things drop off rapidly from there. The following half hour or so is a bit of a chore to sit through before things do admittedly pick up, but for a slasher flick we don't see much actual slashing going on.

Manwhile, Darkroom's murder-mystery elements fall flat through some all too obvious red herrings and dialogue which really should have been through another script revision before the cameras rolled - the obligatory-for-the-late-80's nude/scantily-clad shots do little to keep the audience's attention.

Still worth a look as one of the more forgotten entries from producer Nico Mastorakis' filmography - I'm sure some of the settings (i.e. the orange groves) look very familiar from his more impressive production of the previous year, Grandmother's House. Also, the final humility heaped on the killer in the closing moments is a nice ironic touch - it's a pity it wasn't utilised in a stronger film.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

MOVIE: Nightwing (1979)

 


Nightwing 

Directed by Arthur Hiller 

Starring Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Kathryn Harrold, Stephen Macht, George Clutesi 

Columbia Pictures 1979

Maskai tribal lawman Youngman Duran (Mancuso) is at odds with neighbouring tribesman Walker Chee (Stephen Macht) when a mining company wants to extract shale reserves from sacred burial grounds. 

Tribal elder Tasupi (Clutesi) launches his own offensive against the plans by unleashing dark forces in the form of vampire bats, and horses and livestock are attacked. Meanwhile, Duran’s doctor girlfriend Anne (Harrold) has headed out into the desert with a tourist party which soon comes under siege from the winged menace, and it seems that biologist Phillip Payne (Warner) may be the only person with the know-how to get rid of it…   

From the director of Love Story (I kid you not) came this quite puzzling bats-on-the-attack feature, another 70’s entry in the animals-gone-wild cycle (see Jaws, Grizzly, Piranha et al) which starts out with an intriguing premise and some lofty ambitions to spotlight the concerns of Native Americans, then blows it all by casting a Canadian-Italian and a Philadelphian of Russian descent in the leading roles – Hollywood was apparently still no more comfortable in employing indigenous tribespeople in starring roles than it was when German-born Henry Brandon was cast as Chief Scar in The Searchers (1956). 

That aside, Nightwing is strangely lacking in any real tension or menace and there are some utterly baffling editing decisions on display. Some scenes seem to haphazardly jump to the next without reaching any kind of climax and the script’s socio-political points feel like they’ve been shoehorned in from a checklist. 

Then there are the actual attack sequences… The appalling matte work is one thing (you could be forgiven for thinking Bert I. Gordon had been involved), but the bats themselves are ridiculous, like Halloween toys on sticks. It’s a shock to see that they’re the work of Carlo Rimbaldi (Alien, E.T.,King Kong) and one can only wonder what went wrong in their execution. 

At least the audience can depend on David Warner: An actor who could always be relied upon to put in a decent shift, his fanatical bat hunter is by far the most interesting thing in the film, since the remaining characters (with the exception of a brief turn from Barnard Hughes as the local storekeeper) are as dull as the bat attacks are risible. 

For all that, Nightwing still has some curiosity value as a historically interesting, albeit clumsy attempt to bring some social consciousness to the form of the creature feature. It’s beautifully shot by Charles Rosher and there’s even a score from Henry Mancini which would have no doubt aided the atmosphere of a better film – it’s wasted here, and it’s somewhat bewildering that such a prestigious team ended up creating something so middling.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

MOVIE: Reunion (2020)

 


Reunion 

Directed by Jake Mahaffy 

Starring Julia Ormond, Emma Draper, John Bach, Cohen Holloway 

Greyshack Films/Miss Conception Films/Overactive Imagination/Water's End Productions/ New Zealand Film Commission 2021 

Ellie (Draper), pregnant and apparently fleeing an abusive relationship returns to the home of her recently deceased grandparents where her estranged mother Ivy (Ormond) is boxing up belongings in preparation for a house sale. 

It seems that a reconciliation between the two might be possible, but there are unresolved matters from the past: The death of a half-sister in the house still hangs heavy in the air, and as the details seem to become clearer to Ellie in increasingly nightmarish flashbacks an even darker family secret reveals itself…

Those in search of a cut-and-thrust horror ride can look away now, for Reunion is a slow burn indeed, driven for the most part by an intense two-hander between Ormond and Draper (who both acquit themselves admirably), gradually revealing the layers of a troubled mother/daughter relationship. Meanwhile, Ellie’s memories of past traumas are slowly revealed through a series of partly repetitive, partly contradictory flashbacks, perhaps fuelled by Ellie’s withdrawal from possibly emotion-numbing medication. 

Ellie and Ivy’s uneasy interaction is interrupted only by Ellie’s incapacitated father Jack (Bach) and local architect (and Ellie’s old flame) Gus (Holloway) who has been hired to spruce the place up before it’s sold on. The stroke-ravaged Jack may initially draw the viewer’s sympathy for his current situation, but as his past misdemeanours are steadily divulged one can’t help feeling that he’s gotten no less than he deserves. 

The most prominent character of all in Reunion may be the house itself, its faded grandeur captured with fantastic camera work (by Adam Luxton) which imbues this seemingly benign structure with a malevolent personality of its own, one which signposts the skeletons hanging in the collective family closet. The air of melancholy manifests itself in the most literal fashion as black bile, be it on Ellie’s person or from the house’s ageing water pipes. 

The pacing won’t be to everyone’s taste, indeed this is one of those films which will likely divide opinion right down the middle but those in the right frame of mind will be rewarded with a big climactic gear change into a conclusion which paradoxically manages to be both revelatory and ambiguous: Ellie, after all has demonstrated herself to be an unreliable witness throughout the film and the viewer’s search for the real facts leaves Reunion lingering in the mind and inviting a second look. 

Reunion is released on digital by 101 Films on March 22nd 2021

Sunday, 7 March 2021

MOVIE: Sacrifice (2020)

 


Barbara Crampton (of Re-Animator/From Beyond fame amongst many others) stars with Ludovic Hughes and Sophie Stevens in this Norwegian-set folk horror. It's out on digital platforms from 101 Films on March 15th 2020, and you can check out my review at https://www.spookyisles.com/sacrifice-2020-review/ (opens in a new window).